The world of wine is vast and rich. To celebrate California Wine Month, HuffPost LA had the chance to chat with one of the very top vintners in the state –- who just happens to live here in sunny Los Angeles. She comes from the world of art and now makes one of the most celebrated and hard to find Cabernets in California. Her highly sought-after wines are mainly available through an exclusive mailing list and in select restaurants.
Meet Ann Colgin.
Neighborhood: Bel Air and Napa Valley
Current Gig: Owner of Colgin Cellars in Napa Valley, which produces world-renowned, hand-crafted and deliciously hard to find wines.
[Scroll down for photos of Ann Colgin and her Napa Valley vineyard]
HuffPost: What's the very first wine you fell in love with?
Ann Colgin: 1961 Chateau Latour, which I had in 1980 in London –- it was a wow wine and still is. And the first really memorable California wine I had was the 1975 Phelps Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It opened my eyes to what a great Napa Valley property could produce.
What were you doing prior to founding Colgin Cellars in 1992? Was it always a dream of yours?
After graduating from Vanderbilt University, I studied with Sotheby’s in London (where I discovered fine wine) and then worked at Christie’s in New York. The auction world led me to the world of wine. My mentor at Christie’s was one of the best auctioneers in the business and he was on the podium in the early years of the Napa Valley Wine Auction. I was lucky enough to attend the auction and meet many vintners. It was the beginning of lifelong friendships for me and also made me dream of owning property in Napa Valley.
How similar is this world to the world of art collection and auctioning? Do you consider wine art?
The art and auction world provided me with good contacts and a great appetite for finding the very best whether it be hillside vineyard land, putting together a talented team or finding the best example of an artist’s work. I learned how to determine quality and what makes an object unique. More doesn’t mean better. I would rather own one great example of an artist’s work than a number of mediocre pieces.
Today Colgin Cellars produces four great wines. Can you tell us what your very favorite thing is to eat with each: Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Cariad Napa Valley Red Wine, IX Estate Napa Valley Red Wine and IX Estate Syrah?
With Tychson Hill I would choose Sonoma lamb. With an older vintage of Cariad, my pick is Wolf Ranch quail. With IX Estate Napa Valley Red Wine, it would be Bryan Flannery’s ribeye. And with our Syrah, I love barbecue beef brisket and ribs -- going back to my Texas roots!
Wine connoisseur and critic Robert Parker has called the IX Estate "as close to a viticultural nirvana as I've ever seen." Quite a compliment! What's nirvana for you?
Tasting older vintage red Burgundy in the cellar at Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, a long weekend at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur (heavenly setting and a fantastic restaurant), hiking in the hills above Malibu with the gorgeous ocean views and sleeping at the beach with the sound of the crashing waves.
There are not a lot of women wine makers. Why do you think this is? Are there certain feminine charms or skills that you think you have brought to this mostly male-dominated field?
I am not such an anomaly today as a woman vintner. I think there are many dynamic and talented women in the wine world such as Helen Turley, my first winemaker and Allison Tauziet, my current winemaker. On the business side, Serena Sutcliffe who runs the Sotheby’s Wine Department is a commanding force in the fine and rare wine market. As women, we have an advantage because we tend to be patient, nurturing and work well in teams - all necessary virtues in winemaking. Also, women often have greater abilities to distinguish aromas. That is very valuable in evaluating wine.
LA has become quite a real epicenter for food. How do you think this city relates to wine and wine making? Are there some Los Angeles or California chefs who are really exciting to you right now?
LA is filled with wine lovers and the restaurant scene is getting more exciting each year. I still love the classics such as Capo, Melisse and Providence. I love the new Nobu on the beach -- the fish is fabulous and the setting is amazing. Bouchon is a favorite and for casual dining I like Farm Shop and Gjelina.
In Napa Valley, my favorites are Redd, Ad Hoc and the Restaurant at Meadowood, a Michelin three star, where Christopher Kostow is creating beautiful light dishes with a great sense of style. The French Laundry is still the best restaurant in America. They always amaze me with their innovative dishes and every bite is absolutely delicious every time.
What was it like to buy a vineyard and start making wine? What were some of your biggest stumbling blocks, if any? What was most exciting about waking up every day during those early stages of getting the vineyard going?
It is so exciting and rewarding to develop a vineyard. You have to have a lot of patience, though, and it is very expensive too. I looked for several years for the perfect land with ideal soils, sun exposure and average temperatures before we bought our property in the Pritchard Hill area of St. Helena. It is located high above Lake Hennessey, on a secluded mountaintop, up a long and winding road that bends through oak groves and vineyards. The land was extremely rocky, and it took one year to properly prepare the land for planting and six more years before we had our first bottle to sell!
You are very involved in LACMA and have re-energized the Collector's Committee. Is there a piece of art you are dying to see LACMA buy?
I would love to see LACMA raise the needed funds to acquire a Syrian reception room from 1767. It was removed from a well-documented home in Damascus that was torn down in 1978 to make way for a road, and features colorful inlaid stone floors, painted and carved wood walls, doors and storage niches, a spectacular stone arch that served to divide the two sections of the room, and an intricately inlaid stone wall fountain with a carved and painted stucco hood. With the growth and modernization of Damascus, most of these historic homes were torn down.
I would also like to see LACMA acquire more work by the noted Los Angeles artist, Ken Price. He currently has a show at the Museum. The work is unique, colorful and captivating and the exhibition space was designed by Frank Gehry. This is a “must see” exhibition in LA.
Your husband, Joe Wender, happens to be a major wine collector. It begs the question: what do you guys drink every night?
Something fabulous! After all, life is short. We really drink our cellar and we have a lot of fun deciding what to open every night.
You get to eat and drink for a living. What do you do work out and detox in LA?
My favorite workout in LA is Burn 60 -- it is fun, super energetic and a very complete workout in an hour.
With the farm-to-table trend getting bigger and bigger, is it attracting new people to the wine business? Do you think it is changing the ways we think about wine or the way wine is made?
I think more and more people are becoming interested in wine every day; and as a community, we are more aware than ever about what we eat and drink. We want to know where the products are from, and who made them. More than ever, wines, especially at the high end, must be intrinsically tied to a piece of land.
How long have you lived in LA? How different is your home state of Texas from life in California?
I moved to LA in the mid '90s to run the Sotheby’s West Coast Wine Department. I love splitting my time between Napa Valley and LA and feel so at home in both places. I have a great balance between my life as a farmer and my life in the big city. I really enjoy the weather, the beaches and having friends in the entertainment business in LA. LA and Texas are both the land of living large and dreaming big.
What LA restaurants have the best wine lists?
Capo, Melisse, and Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants (at the Hotel Bel Air, Cut and Spago) all have superb wine lists. Josie in Santa Monica has some of the best pricing on high-end wines.
You and your husband haven't checked a piece of luggage in nearly ten years and you have said, "Life is far too short to wait at baggage claim." What are three items you do not travel without?
My iPad, a Theordora and Callum scarf and my Newton running shoes.
You're a California wine producer and your husband really loves French wines. Is there a (friendly) rivalry?
My husband was a connoisseur of French wines when we met at a Burgundy dinner at Spago. We both love French Burgundies but I am happy to report that Joe is a California Cabernet convert. We have done many blind tastings with French and California cabernets and the Napa Valley wines often come out on top!
Lastly, we've heard of your fabulous dinner parties in Bel Air. What do you think the biggest mistake hosts make when throwing a party? How do you ensure smooth sailing?
My best advice for a hostess is to stop fretting the minute the first guest arrives and have fun. Make sure the wine is really good and so is the music. Mix up the guest list and have people sit next to someone they don’t know so well. We never seat spouses together and we always try to invite someone new to each dinner.